As influencer marketing evolves from a buzzed-about effort to a proven technique, marketers need to take stock of what they know is effective. Here are five important changes coming up in 2017, and experts' advice about what to do about them.
No. 1 FTC Guidelines Spell Scrutiny for Sponsored Posts
Federal Trade Commission guidelines require sponsored posts to be tagged as ads, meaning brands will have to be increasingly vigilant when influencers post on their behalf.
"Marketers are still under the impression that if it's not disclosed when a post is sponsored, it's more effective, which is not the case," said Kristin Hersant, vice president of marketing at influencer marketing platform Linqia. Going forward, that behavior won't fly. "Marketers will need to be tougher with what they require of their influencers," she said.
No. 2 Micro and 'Middle' Influencers Are Gaining Ground
Celebrity endorsements may work for Super Bowl commercials, but some brands are seeing more success with micro-influencers that have up to 10,000 followers and "middle" influencers with up to 250,000 followers.
"Working with celebrities has become significantly less effective" said Gil Eyal, founder of influencer marketing platform HYPR Brands. "Their engagement rates are typically lower than similar influencers with a smaller audience."
Why? "Consumers can see right through it. A post from a person with millions of followers about a brand they've never talked about before seems disingenuous," said Mallorie Rosenbluth, head of social media at food delivery service GrubHub.
No. 3 Instagram Is Becoming Influencers' Preferred Channel
YouTube has long reigned as a go-to channel for influencer content, but Instagram is catching up quickly. In a November 2016 survey, influencer marketing-automation firm TapInfluence asked 268 US influencers, with an average reach of 259,000, which social platform had the most potential for growth with regard to influencer marketing. Instagram emerged as the clear winner.
Brands share that sentiment.
"Instagram is huge for us because of the rich data and because you really get to know the influencers," Delilah Nuval, marketing manager at H2O+ Beauty, said.
No. 4 Video Brings 'Passion' to Sponsored Posts
There's no one-size-fits-all method for determining the right content for a specific influencer marketing campaign, but brands and influencers are leaning toward video to maximize the authentic feel of sponsored posts.
"We want influencers to highlight Mezzetta by creating content that feels personal and comes from whatever passion they have for the product," Rajiv Doshi, director of digital marketing at CPG company Mezzetta, said. Often, video is the most effective route. "We feel very strongly about video, and are starting to see more of our influencers create video content," he added.
No. 5 Effective Content Will Require a Leap of Faith
For influencer marketing to work, brands have to learn to trust their influencers—that means letting go of the reins on content creation.
"One of the challenges that marketers have is that they micromanage influencers," said Joseph Cole, vice president of growth marketing at TapInfluence.
That makes the posts seem less authentic, and they become just another piece of brand marketing. The key is to let influencers do what they do best.
"Influencers' content should feel natural to their feed and fuel their story," Grubhub's Rosenbluth said.